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    Toby Portner, left, and Melissa May White are founders of the Hifi fashion incubator, a pop-up store for designers and artists open at Ala Moana Center tomorrow through March 27. They're looking for volunteer help.

After five years of working to create a space to nurture, inspire and assist aspiring artists, fashion designers and other creatives, Hawaii Fashion Incubator has found a temporary home at Ala Moana Center to coincide with the annual spring Shop A Le’a event.

Hifi opens its spring pop-up store tomorrow evening with Pecha-Kucha Night — a networking gathering of designers and artists who will share their work — the first of many special events, workshops, talks, film screenings and trunk shows on the calendar in this community-oriented shared space.

The pop-up incubator will be open through March 27, and reservations are being taken for anyone who wishes to teach a class or workshop in keeping with Hifi’s mission to move fashion forward.

Driving Hifi are co-founders Melissa May White and Toby Portner, who started with a shared interest in fashion and an aim toward finding a physical space that would help drive collaborations among designers and help them gain the skills needed to succeed in a tough industry.

With funds in short supply, their initial aim was to open a monthlong pop-up store downtown, to give their idea visibility.

"We weighed all the pros and cons. We had planned for 30 days, and would losing 20 days be a deal breaker? We’d worked with Ala Moana before and decided we’d be getting way more exposure being there," Portner said.

"We realize that to meet our goal, we need to gain community support. Having a physical space allows people to see and understand the incubator in a way that meets their needs," White said.

Highlights include a work station with about six sewing machines available for public use when classes are not in session; make-and-take craft workshops for kids and families as well as free or low-cost photography, T-shirt reconstruction and fashion illustration classes; Shop A Le’a fashion show after-parties for Lovelessizm from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, and next Thursday for Andy South; and The Coop boutique area featuring designs by more than 20 local designers and brands including Lovelessizm, Muumuu Heaven, Organik, Umee, HI State of Mind, Sierra Dew and Polyascko2, with several "Meet the Designer" days planned.

Portner and White hope to one day establish a small-run factory to help new designers get their work produced in sufficient quantity to suit retailers’ needs.

White said it took a while to get to this point, as they tried to meet the needs of aspiring designers and build a community that would support their efforts. They worked with the University of Hawaii at Manoa APDM Costume Collection to create an exhibition of historic Hawaii garments, and launched a series of pop-up Coop events to introduce new designers, in addition to participating in other community events.

"We did an event every month and it was exhausting, but we learned a lot about what we wanted and didn’t want to be," said Portner, whose background is in education and whose real job is working for the state Department of Education. She worked on a similar child-and-family, school-and-store project in Chicago before moving to Hawaii.

"These days, you can go to the store and get anything you want, but there’s a lot of value in learning how to make things with your hands, and kids get it," she said. "American children don’t do well in national math tests and fashion happens to be one of the areas where they can improve their measurement and math skills. When they’re making something to wear, it has to fit and then math has some relevance to them."

Referring to Hifi, Portner said, "The only way for something like this to work is for people to see the value in their own development and participate. When people can share resources and skills, it helps everyone to grow faster than if they were working on their own."

Spring Pop-up Fashion Incubator

»» Place: Ala Moana Center, lower level, between Hilo Hattie and Sam Goody

»» Pecha-Kucha Night: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. tomorrow

»» More events: Workshops, films, trunk shows, boutique sales, etc., through March 27.

»» Calendar of events:


Register at

»» Saturday: SLR photography workshop with Mick Motor, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.; tie-dye class with Wendy Rosen, noon to 2 p.m.; "Naughty Needling Lingerie Class," 5 to 7 p.m. See website for costs.

»» Sunday: Tiare Thomas shows how to create a "vision board" in two sessions, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. Pre-registration of $15 includes all materials; $20 for drop-ins. Also, family open studio involving sewing and crafts, with Hifi co-founder Toby Portner, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Cost is $10 per family, space permitting.

»» Monday: Learn to create and print with stencils with Sierra Dew, 3 to 6 p.m. Bring clothing or accessory items to stencil. Fee of $30 covers other supplies.

»» Tuesday: Bring old T-shirts for makeovers during Etsy community crafting event, "Reconstructing Tee Shirts," 5 to 9 p.m.; $10.

»» Wednesday: Fashion Illustration for Everyone, 10 a.m. to noon. Repeats next Thursday. Registration $12; $15 for walk-ins.


»» Saturday: Free screening of "Valentino: The Last Emperor," 7 p.m.

»» Sunday: University of Hawaii apparel, product design and merchandising students show their illustrations, 4 to 6 p.m. Free.

»» Monday: Andi Lilikoi Gaspar of Lilikoi Photography helps you find your inner fashion model, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cost: $125.

»» Tuesday: Free Beauty Bar experience with Bella Beauty Agency and Lash Card, 5 to 7 p.m.

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